Honoring Block Island

Fri, 05/21/2021 - 1:00pm

To the Editor,

With the approach of Memorial Day, thoughts turn to Legion Park, a place that commemorates so much Block Island history. It also played a key role in 2021 as our front line workers—the medical center, the rescue squad, fire department, police, and the American Legion—all did a superb job in protecting us from the global pandemic known as Covid. It was especially fitting to do that at Legion Park midst the monuments honoring the veterans who fought in other global wars, all to protect the common good. As the medical folks administered the vaccines, it was symbolic that they were standing shoulder to shoulder with the bell from the USS Block Island CVE-106, a small aircraft carrier that helped repatriate American and Allied POWs from the enemy’s slave labor camps on Formosa at the end of World War II. Those former prisoners were in dreadful condition, having been mistreated for many months—some for years. Many wore the scars of cruel treatment by prison guards, all were sick and grossly malnourished, emaciated, nothing but skin and bones. The hanger deck of the carrier provided an area for cots to accommodate the rescued, and where medical help, nourishment and compassion, could be rendered as the ship made the initial journey towards freedom, family and home.
There were actually two vessels named Block Island and both rendered important service to America. The small aircraft carriers were originally built to fight U-boats in the Atlantic. Having successfully carried the battle to seven U-boats, the first Block Island—CVE 21—was torpedoed and sunk in May 1944. At least six crew members died as did four pilots whose planes were in the air at the time. Their ship having been destroyed, they had no place to land and later ditched into the sea when they ran out of fuel.
A second Block Island—CVE 106—was built in its honor and fought valiantly in the Pacific, particularly in the ferocious battles at Okinawa, then later moved on to assist in the repatriation of those POWs from Formosa, carrying them to the Philippines where they were transferred to larger vessels.
We’re honored to have those two valiant ships named after our community, and their crews can take comfort, knowing that this
island will remember their contributions to our nation, hopefully forever. Thank you to the American Legion Post # 36 and to the community that works so hard to preserve the island, its history and landscape. It’s a fitting place to honor those two ships and their crews. So doing, we honor three Block Islands, a name we proudly share.

Kay and Keith Lewis
off Cooneymus Road